(This is a long narrative. If you are seeing this post through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos at the end of the post and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)
In Part I of this Thebeerchaser post, I mentioned how my wife of almost 43 years has understandably insisted that I significantly reduce the myriad files in our garage, my office and scattered throughout filing cabinets we own. (That means recycle most of them especially if they have not been viewed in the last ten to fifteen years.)
In the last post I gave examples of material from my employment at Clackamas County and one undergrad college paper with a cryptic comment from a professor – one I didn’t use for a reference in my graduate school admission process…
I worked with lawyers in a management capacity for over thirty-five years at the Oregon State Bar and the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt firm based in Portland’s PacWest Center. So in my first 2023 post, I’ll begin by giving you some glimpses of the enjoyment I got from the humor surrounding this work.
Was it a stressful environment?
But one where the tension was eased by jocularity and people not taking themselves too seriously.
# External photo attribution at the end of the post. (#1 – #2)
Schwabe had a wonderful culture, shared by attorneys and staff alike and was a major factor why we regularly landed in the top ranks of Oregon’s Best Employers as rated by the employees themselves. There was an organizational sense of humor.
Lawyers are a competitive group and ensconced within the five floors of the thirty-three story PacWest Center in Portland, there was often a friendly rivalry on who could come up with the wittiest electronic missive or response to an e-mail. The same was true in all the offices whether Seattle, Vancouver or Bend.
I have to admit as the COO, I tended to reinforce this trait by recognition of several “Emails of the Year” at our firm’s annual retreat – I’d present bottles of wine to the winners.
The first one I saved from 1996. (Now you know why Janet is on my case!) It was even authored by a tax lawyer – a group often stereotyped as having senses of humor tantamount to the humor buried in the pages of the Internal Revenue Code on depreciation…… (#3)
A comedian’s source book?
I will generally omit the names of the senders in this post (although I don’t think they would mind and their colleagues would recognize the senders).
The one below was authored by a brilliant tax litigator who would periodically send an e-mail to the entire Firm entitled, “Taxes are Your Friend.” These would include an excerpt from the Code accompanied by a picture of a rabbit with a pancake or waffle on its head.
We also had a “junk-mail” address where people could send questions, advertise items for sale or raise other issues not related to client business. This one started with the following inquiry:
Question: Is anyone familiar with how real estate is transferred in Brazil? (#5 – #6)
Response: The entire town stands along the property lines of the property to be conveyed. A representative of the town recorder called the “Schlimph” garrotes a chicken and the children of the village spread the feathers at the corner of the property.
Then the appointed elders (“drelba”) while chanting ancient real estate incantations, pick up dirt clods and rocks and hurl them in the air. Finally, a small child is selected from the crowd and forced to chug large quantities of Eucalyptus Tea and Tabasco while the rest of the villages shout “Go!” “Go!” “Go”.
If the selected child becomes ill, the transaction is considered “closed” and the buyer and seller exchange twigs from the plants growing on the property and go home. If the child is unaffected by the ordeal, the buyer and the seller are sacrificed to the real estate gods in the “Ritual of the Ostrich” and property eschews to the Schlimph. (I hope this is helpful….)
The one below was the winner at the 2010 Firm Retreat – written by one of my favorite associates in the Environmental and Natural Resources Group. Notwithstanding his feigned disregard for Mother Earth, he’s now a partner.
The Truth – Sometimes Stranger Than Fiction
Of course, e-mails were also sent to lawyers seeking expert witnesses, referrals, case cites, etc. This one emanated from another Environmental Lawyer in 2005.
Employment and Labor Law generated some of the most interesting and often bizarre situations. While the following matter was not one at Schwabe, I added this 1967 case https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2d/257/468.html) to my files years afterwards as a keeper when I started collecting these treasures.
I was only a freshman in college when it went to trial, but I’ve kept it all these years. Maybe because it portended some of the recent lawsuits involving education and religion – perhaps it’s surprising it’s not on a current docket. (#7)
The Daily Grind…
Maybe there are days when it’s not the stress of legal work, but just daily life that makes one yearn for a highball at the end of the day. This premise was demonstrated in this 2001 e-mail from one of our Seattle lawyers who inquired of his colleagues at 4:06 in the afternoon:
One difference between Schwabe and many other big firms was the lack of a status difference between attorneys and management. They viewed non-attorney managers as professionals – in fact all staff were treated as professionals which helped the cohesiveness and teamwork at the firm.
And Management was often tasked with having to say “no.” We made ongoing decisions on space planning and who received which office, negotiated on annual billable hour goals and, of course, determined compensation. The list goes on…..
Just as the lawyer above, had a toddy with colleagues at the end of the day, one didn’t necessarily need to leave the firm as the daily grind ended. This was the case when I appreciated the chance to have a single-malt beverage with the partner whose office was next to mine after she sent this e-mail. We enjoyed at least one shot of Balvenie Scotch.
I mentioned space planning as one of Management’s ongoing challenges. The same was true anytime there was a major remodel or a build-out when the firm expanded to an additional floor.
Gaining anything close to a favorable reaction on carpet, paint color or even design of nameplates was problematic. (I could devote a book chapter on the Firm’s Art Committee alone……)
I’m going to depart from my stated guideline and name the lawyer who authored the next e-mail because he was well known in both legal and local broadcast circles and also served on the firm’s Board for a number of years and was supportive of Management decisions.
Jack Faust – one of my former Beerchasers-of-the-Quarters – moderated an award-winning Portland civic affairs television program (“Town Hall”) for many years and was also one of the most respected practitioners of appellate law in Oregon.
He also loved engaging in the humorous revelry and we still recount these stories on some of the numerous Beerchasing Events we’ve had at various Portland bars since retirement. (The picture on the right below was not on one of those events, but from Jack’s law school years.)
He offered these words of comfort to the Portland office in the midst of a major build-out on two floors in 2003:
It’s not only the substantive legal issues that complicate lives in a large regional law firm. As the prohibition against lawyer advertising prohibited by most states’ ethics rule was struck down in a 1977 US Supreme Court decision (Bates v. State Bar of Arizona), the practice of law forever changed.
Interestingly, three justices (Warren Burger, Lewis Powell Jr. and William Rehnquist) predicted dire consequences. As Powell stated “…..will effect profound changes in the practice of law, viewed for centuries as a learned profession.”(#8)
…Will effect profound changes in the practice of law……
When I worked at the Oregon State Bar in the late ’70’s, the Board of Governors spent a good part of every meeting discussing how to discipline lawyers who viloated the Ethical Rules by advertising.
That changed and by the mid ’80’s, most large law firms had Marketing Directors (Schwabe used the euphemism “Director of Client Relations.”) If a lawyer wanted to become a partner, he or she had to be effective at bringing in new clients. Professional photographs for resumes and to spiffy up responses to Requests for Proposals became the norm.
The aforementioned tax lawyer (see above) often battled with the Internal Revenue Service and offered this tongue-in-cheek response to the following 2007 e-mail from Client Relations. The advice from the Marketing Assistant is also sanctimonious and I’m sure drew some deserved sarcastic responses:
Marketing Assistant: All Attorneys, Paralegals and Managers – our firm photographer will be in the Portland office. Please dress however, you feel comfortable being represented as a professional – some prefer jacket and tie, others in shirt sleeves, still others in sweaters. – whatever represents who you are.
These are color individual Headshots (emphasis added) so take advantage and put a little color in the clothes you wear (a bright tie, a colored blazer or shirt….)
Tax Lawyer: Please do not use the term “Headshot” with those of us who deal with the IRS on a regular basis. It makes us nervous.
The Oregon State Bar
This is a digression from Schwabe matters because the letter below was received by the Oregon State Bar when I worked there as Business Manager. But it’s part of my collection. (#9)
Before getting into the essence of Ethics Opinion (No. 475) issued in 1982, I have to state that I loved working with lawyers from 1974 until my retirement in 2011.
The overwhelming majority of those I met and with whom I worked were not only skilled and dedicated professionals, but people with whom I would not hesitate to have a beer and enjoyed their company.
Now I realize there are lawyer stereotypes – just like those that characterize sales people, undertakers, actuaries and consultants. And while I disagree with the portrayal of J.W. Reid from Costa Mesa, CA who wrote this letter, I had to laugh at his assertion.
It was written after the Bar issued an opinion (It was modified in 2005 with Opinion 2005-140) that stated except under very limited circumstances, a lawyer may not have a consensual sexual relationship with a client.
The opinion made major headlines and Mr. Reid evidently focused on the limited circumstances allowing sex when he wrote the following:
Now the unnamed gentleman below from Independence, Oregon in his 1981 letter indicates anger and revenge for the Oregon State Bar based on a prior act, but the lack of specificity in his notice of claim indicates that he might need the assistance of a lawyer:
Expense Reimbursement and Perks
While working as a lawyer in private practice involves stress and very long hours, it had definite advantages – among them generous compensation and year-end bonuses and good benefits and perks – including travel to conferences and seminars paid by the firm. (#10 – #11)
There were several trends that diminished law firms’ willingness to pay travel and lodging expense at these events. The economics of law grew much tighter with the over-supply of lawyers and increased competition from advertising in the late 1980’s. Clients became more sophisticated and concerned with the escalation of fees and costs.
More importantly, the IRS also modified it rules on the deductibility of meals and entertainment – also spousal travel. Agents also targeted professional service firms because there were often excesses under the guise of marketing. (Maybe taxes aren’t always your friend!”)
Prior to that time, the firm would sometimes pay for senior partners to take their spouses to major events such as the American Bar Association National Convention or other professional association meetings. This included spousal air travel, meals and lodging.
The enhanced IRS enforcement and requirements now meant that among other requirements:
“…… where a taxpayer’s spouse accompanies the taxpayer on a business trip, the travel expenses will not be deductible unless the spouse’s presence on the trip has a bona fide business purpose.” (emphasis added) (#12)
Interpretation of “Bona fide business purpose.”
Of course, garnering agreement on the definition of “bona fide business purpose” generated debate – maybe of a lesser scale, but almost as vociferous – as that resulting from Justice Potter Stewart describing his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio in 1964.
And since I was involved in the final approval of these expenses, I enjoyed many of the esoteric justifications submitted. Perhaps my favorite was the one below which also shows another trait exhibited by many lawyers. While they may be stereotyped as having inflated egos, I always appreciated the self-deprecating humor shown by many as evidenced below:
While we appreciated his witticism, he either paid for his wife’s expenses out of his own pocket, or she stayed in Seattle while he enjoyed Florida’s sunny climate!
You’ve seen a very small sample of the items I’ve saved from my career in legal management and I’ll leave you with this classic. The development of a robust Intellectual Property Practice at Schwabe (Patent, Trademark, Copyright, IP Litigation, etc.) began in 2002 under the late Al AuYueng – a gifted lawyer and manager. It had some interesting implications.
While Schwabe lawyers making the cut to get hired as new associates were very smart and well-educated, the new IP attorneys possessed both of these qualifications, but their educations surpassed that of their colleagues.
Besides undergrad and law school degrees and passage of the Bar, most of them also had masters’ degrees or doctorates in fields such as Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics or Computer Science. They also had to pass the Patent Bar Exam.
Their high-tech clients had technical and esoteric issues requiring expert legal advice. One of my favorites was this one from Al – his inquiry was serious – but his e-mail drew two great responses from lawyers who couldn’t resist the opportunity:
Al Au Yeung: Does anyone have a recommendation for a carbon dating service?
Lawyer No. I: Match.com?
Lawyer No. 2: That’s the response I sent to Al, but I also warned him that they will often bait and switch. They show photos of really attractive minerals and all you end up with are common minerals such as silicon and iron. You never strike gold!
A Final Comment on Enlightened Management
I worked for two co-managing Partners for most of the years I was the COO. Mark Long and Dave Bartz were not only distinguished lawyers in their specialties, but had remarkable management instincts – and they complemented each other.
The length of their tenure belies the respect of their lawyer colleagues and that of all firm personnel. They are both now honored with Emeritus status. (Long on the left and Bartz on the right).
They were also very approachable and collegial which is why one firm paralegal did not feel threatened sending this e-mail to one of them under his own e-mail address: (you’ll have to guess which one received as I don’t want to get fired retroactively! (In fact, I think the only way I got this e-mail was the recipient laughed about it and forwarded it to me.)
Cheers and Happy New Year!
External Photo Attribution
#1. Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=513523270102753&set=pb.100043352539827.-2207520000.&type=3)
#3. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Internal_Revenue_Code.jpg) This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
#5. Wikimedia Commons: (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brazil_on_the_globe_
(Brazilian_Antarctica_claims_hatched)_(Chile_centered).svg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Author: TUBS 21 June 2011.
#6. Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Heres_a_bunny_with_waffle.png) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Source: File:Oolong the Rabbit’s last performance (2003).jpg: Hironori Akutagawa Derivative work: Yuval Y § Chat §
#7. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HCS_bus49.JPG) This work has been released into the public domain by its author, William Grimes at English Wikipedia. This applies worldwide. 19 February 2007.
#8. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Supreme_Court_Justice_Lewis_Powell_-_1976_official_portrait.jpg) This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
#9.Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sex_education.jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author: Shairyar.khan.7 7 December 2015.
#10. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Bar_Association_3c_1953_issue_U.S._stamp.jpg) This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
#11. Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Airbus_A380_blue_sky.jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: Flickr user Axwel 12 May 2007.
#12. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blue-Eagle%2BIRS.png). This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
#13. Daily Journal of Commerce Oregon (https://djcoregon.com/news/2012/03/16/leadership-in-law-mark-long-and-david-bartz/) Author: in 1535 – March 16, 2012.